Skip to content

A Brief Introduction to Google’s Main Algorithm Updates

Google Penguin Update

Have you ever wondered why your searches almost always find the kind of pages you’re looking for? Well, the right pages come up because of algorithms.

Over the years, Google’s algorithms have played a big part in ensuring that people get the right results in their online searches. Google’s search engine deploys algorithms to deliver the most relevant results for a user’s queries – it’s quite nifty. They’re sometimes associated with sinister invasive practises. But the truth is, algorithms can actually be quite helpful.

Having an understanding of the importance of algorithms and the way they work is essential for anyone running a business. This is more and more the case as time goes on. In 2021. Google accounts for over 70% of all search traffic. As a result, any business that can get their website near the top of Google’s search results is far more likely to be successful.

The truth is, Google makes thousands of updates to their algorithm each year. Thankfully, you don’t need to have a complete understanding of each of these. Here are some of the most important updates to Google’s algorithm, and ways you can work with them to ensure your website is successful.


Penguin came into the world in 2012. It sent shockwaves through every business trying to boost their position in Google’s search results.

What sounds like a small, friendly creature, actually wrought havoc to some websites. Penguin was created to monitor the quality of links that point to a website. Before Penguin, Google had always seen links back to a site as a mark of approval. The more backlinks a website had, the higher it would appear in the Google search results.

To game this system, businesses would buy cheap links from poor quality and often irrelevant websites. This was all to ensure that they would be given priority in the Google search listings. When Penguin came along, this all changed. Suddenly, if a website had a large number of poor-quality links directing to it, it would appear further down the search results. Some sites went from the top of the list to nearer the bottom, overnight.

Working with Penguin

So, what can you do to avoid being penalised by this system? A good start is ensuring that the sites that are linking to your website are good quality. This could mean they come from trusted sources like articles or relevant pages. Getting links on sites that exist to create backlinks is a sure way to invoke the wrath of Penguin.

If you think your site is being held back by poor quality backlinks, it’s a good idea to contact the sites making the links. There are numerous programs available that can help you track down backlinks. By getting these removed, you can focus on building higher quality, Penguin-friendly links.


Okay, this is getting silly now. Is it actually called Pigeon? Well, the answer is yes. Pigeon came on the scene in 2014. Believe it or not, it’s one of the biggest algorithm changes that Google has implemented so far.

Pigeon helped to ensure that users received relevant results in their searches. Before it came into being, search results were typically broad. For example, if a user searched for ‘pizza in Oxford’, they might not necessarily find what they are looking. They find a few pizza restaurants, but alongside them, they would likely find links to pages related to grocery shopping or other kinds of dining.

Alongside this, search results would typically favour bigger companies that were well established. This meant that it was harder for smaller, independent businesses to stand out.

Luckily for them, however, Pigeon changed this. Search results were no longer as broad, meaning if a user searched for ‘pizza in Oxford’ they would find a list of pizza restaurants in Oxford. The balance was also tipped away from big businesses. For the first time, small businesses were put on an equal footing in Google’s search results.

Success with Pigeon

So, what can you do to get on the side of the Pigeon algorithm? Well, there are a few steps you can take. A good place to start is with a Google My Business account. From here you can input details about your business, this will help to establish you on Google’s local index. This means that if someone in your area searches for your business, you are more likely to show up in their results.

There are two other ways that help you climb up search results. One is to make sure that your name, address and phone number are the same across all your digital platforms. The other is to join as many local directories as possible. This will help Google to better associate you with your locality.


Before you ask, yes, they all have slightly ridiculous names. Launched in 2011, Panda was Google’s way of dealing with the rise of exploitative practices such as Blackhat SEO.

What is Blackhat SEO? It’s a term coined to describe the actions of some websites to utilise the algorithm to gain a higher listing on search Google results. Examples of Blackhat SEO include hidden links, keyword stuffing and automating queries to Google. Despite breaking Google’s terms of service, sites that used Blackhat SEO often found themselves rewarded for their efforts.

This was until Panda came into effect. Panda affected sites that had low editorial standards. This often meant articles that were poorly written and included inflated word counts. In other words, articles that weren’t particularly useful to a user. Panda penalises poor quality sites, and rewards good quality by allowing a higher positioning in Google search results.

Staying Panda-friendly

Luckily, the solution for dealing with Panda, is quite simple. Ask yourself this – is your site providing good quality and unique content? If the answer to this question is ‘no’ then you need to start thinking about how you can improve the content on your site.

This doesn’t necessarily mean removing older content, but rather focusing on steps to improve future content. A good place to start is by looking at the main pages on your site. Are they littered with spelling errors or jam packed with keywords? Again, if this is the case consider an edit. For blogs and articles, think about enlisting the help of a content writer that’s knowledgeable in SEO, to get the best results.


Finally, a name that makes sense! Mobile was an algorithm update designed to shift focus onto mobile-friendly websites. Before the age of the smartphone, all users accessed sites from their desktop computers. When the iPhone and its counterparts arrived, this slowly began to change. So much so, that in 2021, 55% of all global traffic is generated by mobile devices.

Noticing this change, Google decided to do something. On April 21st, 2015, it launched its Mobile algorithm update. This date was dubbed ‘Mobilegeddon’. For the first time mobile friendly websites were placed higher in search results for users visiting from their phones. If you didn’t have a mobile-friendly website, well, you were in trouble.

Like other algorithm updates, this all links back to the question of usability. A larger number of people were now viewing content from mobile devices. Because of this, Google wanted to ensure that people were finding content that would be accessible and user friendly.

Adapting to the Mobile world

To make sure that your website is not being impeded by the Mobile algorithm, you first need to ensure that your site is mobile-friendly. There are several steps you can take to do this.

One is to optimise your site for mobile users. This means more than making a few tweaks here and there. You can’t simply minimise the size of content to make sure it works on mobile devices. A site that is optimised for mobile means that a mobile user has the same experience as someone visiting your site from a desktop computer.

This means you’ll probably need a new, responsive layout. It also means reconfiguring certain aspects of your site such as menus and interactive elements.

Let’s be honest, with such a large number of users visiting from mobile devices, it’s in your interest to make sure that your site is mobile friendly.


It could be argued that Hummingbird is the most significant algorithm update in this list. It fundamentally changed the way in which the Google search function worked.

Before Hummingbird, if a user searched for a certain term, they would receive a set of results matching their query word for word. For example, if a user searched for ‘Premier League table’ they would receive a set of results for pages containing the words ‘Premier League table’. This meant that results often lacked the depth of information that a user is searching for.

This changed in 2013 when Google introduced the Hummingbird algorithm. For the first time a user could make a query and get a direct answer back. Now if a user searches for ‘Premier League table’ they will be presented with the table at the top of their search results. Not only that, but a user will receive additional information related to their query, such as ‘Who has won the Premier League the most?’.

Since its launch, Hummingbird has been learning. It has improved its functionality based on user queries. This means that it is now much more knowledgeable and can provide in depth results for all kinds of queries.

Putting the Hummingbird on your side

Businesses can make use of the Hummingbird algorithm, too. Hummingbird formulates results based on keywords. By doing the correct keyword research, you can know the kind of words to populate your site with and climb higher up the search results.


Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sadly, the Payday algorithm update has nothing to do with increasing your revenue.

Payday was launched in 2013 and was an effort to deal with spam queries and low-quality sites. This mainly related to spam such as queries for payday loans or pornographic content.

As seen earlier, Google has system in place to identify good quality websites and give them priority in search results. There are some instances, however, where websites use spam to trick the algorithm and give themselves a higher positioning in Google search results. This meant that poor quality or even fraudulent sites, were being placed highly in Google search results.

Payday was designed as a way detect and reduce this from happening. Many websites will be unaffected by Payday, although businesses in sectors associated with spam queries (such as loans or gambling) will see an impact.

Stick to the Payday rules

How do you stop yourself from being affected by Payday? It should go without saying, but avoid using predatory, Blackhat tactics. Work within the rules and your site will still get exposure. As detailed in this piece there are numerous simple steps you can take to get on with the Google algorithm.

Don’t underestimate the algorithm

Google’s algorithms are crucial to the success of your business online. But with so many different algorithms, it can seem almost impossible to keep up without hiring someone solely to keep your site search engine friendly.

That’s where Wrise can help. We offer professional website copywriting services that can make sure your site is optimised for search engines, and your customers. Working with Google’s algorithm updates, we’ll give your site the best chance of ranking organically for relevant key phrases. Get a free, no obligation quote for your next project today!